Tell us a little about your life, growing up.
My parents were both in the arts and I was born into this incredible, loving and artistic home. My earliest memories are of my dad playing instruments around the house and my mom bringing me to class with her. I’d listen to my dad play the banjo and the guitar, and sit under the barres in the dance studio, and I think that’s where the story begins. I did try to escape the arts for a while-I fell in love with horses and horseback riding. My parents supported me fully in it. No matter what I did though, once my mom opened up her dance school in Bucks County, PA, I always had to be there in the evenings anyway so she always put me in class and slowly over the years, I came to love it for myself and choose it for myself. I am an only child and my parents homeschooled me, so we were able to create this custom tailored little life for me that included commuting into NYC to take class in the mornings, doing school work on the train and then being at the studio all night. I spent my summers at ballet programs with ABT and Complexions Contemporary Ballet -at 14 years old, I left for North Carolina School of the Arts where my relentless passion and ambition was supported and cultivated, and after completing high school in 3 years, I moved to New York at 17 years old and made my Broadway debut. Phew -thats the quick and dirty of it all!
Who/what inspires you and why?
My parents are a big inspiration to me. I think my mom has the biggest heart on earth. Her passion and her ability to change so many people’s lives through sharing her passion of dance and art is just thrilling to me. Both my mom and dad did everything they possibly could to support me in everything I have ever wanted to do, and that capacity to support and love and give thrills me, and the older I get, the more I realize how inspiring it is to be loved like that, and my biggest hope is to pass that love and that support and that passion on to as many people as I possibly can. I must also say my dear friend Ariana Debose is a major inspiration to me, and it’s just the most incredible thing ever that we got to do this film together. My moments in the film are deeply intertwined with her, and to be able to share that with someone who I love so much and who I admire so deeply was priceless. Ariana’s work ethic and hustle is second to none. She is self made and her talent is unending. She has always lifted me up and been my biggest cheerleader. Watching her rise has served as such inspiration for me to follow my biggest dreams and deepest desires as well, and it’s just amazing to have a friend like her. Every step she takes, she looks at me and invites me, “Come on. Let’s go!” It’s important to have those people in our lives.
How would you describe your experience acting in theater vs film? Which do you like better and why?
I think they can’t be compared. I spent the last 13 years on Broadway stages and I just can’t express what it’s like when the lights dim and the stage manager calls places- you hear the overture start and you are buckling into a 2 1/2 hour roller coaster ride in front of a live audience 8 times a week. It’s singular. I was in Moulin Rouge! most recently and that show holds such a special place in my heart- dancing Sonya Tayeh’s choreography every night is a beautiful memory tattooed on my heart. I can’t wait to be back on Broadway, but I am looking at it through a different lens now of what I want to do. I’m excited for the right opportunity to come along that I can dive into and return to the stage in this new chapter of my life. As for film – where do I begin? -I am in the honeymoon phase. just got to film my very, very, very first movie with Steven Spielberg as the director and his whole team – I got to play one of my dream roles, in my favorite musical. I am so head-over-heels in love with working on film and and on camera that I truly stepped away from everything else I was doing to focus on this new path. I am enamored. I am enraptured. I am focused and swirling towards this new love. I want to immerse myself in this new medium and combine all of my talents and just dive so deep into this area for a while. I’ll come up for air someday, but for right now, it’s a full focus on
film and TV for me!
You star in the upcoming Steven Spielberg project, West Side Story. What can you tell us about the film?
Can tell you that it’s magical. I can tell you that it was life changing making it and being a part of something so important and beautiful. I can tell you that it’s the most epic group of people I have had the pleasure of working with. Every single human being on that set knew how special the moment was, and the way we showed up each day with presence and gratitude was astounding. I can tell you what Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner and Justin Peck did with this piece is so thoughtful and so rich and powerful. I can’t wait for the world to see this piece. I think it’s more important than ever and it’s amazing to be able to be a part of this legacy – on so many levels.
What was it like working with the legendary Steven Spielberg?
You know how sometimes they say to never meet your heroes? Well… meet Steven Spielberg if you get the chance because he surpasses all of the most wonderful things you have ever heard about him. It’s amazing to meet someone so established in themselves and in their career and to then see them choose generosity and kindness each day. Generous. That would be the biggest word I use to describe him. Generous and Curious. He is constantly pushing himself to be better and shows up each day excited to attack the day and make art, and curious at what he can find in the work that day. What a beautiful leader to be around – the respect he commands in a room is beautiful and the love his team has for him is also so wonderful to witness. So much of his crew have been with him for years, decades even, and that speaks volumes to the ship he runs and the human he is. He allowed each of us in the film to feel so valued and chosen, so supported and cared for. It changed the way I work and opened my eyes even further to the sort of directors and teams I want to work for.
Tell us about your character Graziella?
Graziella is such an interesting chess piece in the story. In the past, she has been sometimes reduced to “Riff’s Girlfriend” but I feel in this film we are able to meet her in a much more rounded and full way. She is passionate, she is fiery, and she burns with a deep sense of desire and opinion. She is guarded and ferocious, but there are moments where she opens and her love and her softness and her care shine through, and I love that duality of her. In many ways, I see so much of myself in those qualities as well. I was able to step deeper into myself as a person through that experience of discovering her.
What are some fun or interesting stories you have from on set?
Maybe someday we will come together for a little tell-all of how fun those months were working on this project. Steven just spoiled us and each day was filled with beautiful surprises and experiences. There were so many firsts for so many of us.
Who are some actors/directors you’d like to work within the future?
Wes Anderson and Greta Gerwig are my top two directors I would love to collide with. There are so many I admire and so many I don’t know yet that I am so thrilled to discover, but those two are the dream directors that I would just so love the opportunity, not only to get to know, but to create with. I have forever felt so seen in their work, in their identities, in the worlds they create. I manifest colliding with them often.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
I am a unique individual. I march to the beat of my own drum. I’m not “conventionally” anything-I’m not necessarily “commercially” anything either. I am not clearly the ingenue and I’m not clearly the quirky best friend. I’m not the hot girl next door, but I am also not the bombshell starlet. I don’t really have any doppelgängers and I often feel like a lone wolf. This all collides into many times projects not knowing where to put me. I tend to show up to auditions and meetings just so unabashedly myself, and often times leave with incredible personal connections, but the conundrum of maybe not fitting the role that has already been written or the mold already cast. I can’t wait to be in on a project early enough that I can infuse and intertwine what I want to bring to a character with a director and a writer – it’s a massive dream of mine to truly originate and create a role with a team. The things that have been for me have been such beautiful, singular fits for me. When I feel seen and when the fit is right, the connection I feel, not only with the work but with my fellow creators and creative team, is just so heightened and beautiful. But often I have struggled with wishing certain shows, both on stage and screen, would take a risk on me, knowing that I might not fit the traditionally commercial molds of things, but the expansive willingness and passion and unique point of view and life experience I can bring to some of those roles might surprise them and enrich the piece in a new way. I’m not sure we “overcome” this search for belonging and identity and the want to feel seen and valued -I do know that I no longer put myself in rooms where I don’t feel those things-and my commitment to self and authenticity is a practice and one that I re-center on daily. It’s easy to lose yourself trying to be what a show, a casting director, an agent or a creator might want you to be, so I think the beautiful balance is how do we step into the shoes of characters and projects and allow ourselves to expand without losing our sense of identity and self in our lives as well.
What are three words you’d use to describe yourself?
Passionate. Relentless. Curious.
What’s your favorite place in the world and why?
It’s a hand-in-hand tie between Switzerland and Scotland. Isle of Skye in Scotland is one of the most powerful places I have ever been. It’s so moody and thoughtful, I just love it. I also love the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. I am in an explorative mood and I really want to get to the Fare Islands and to Norway, sooner than later. I’ve also never been to Paris or London, so I need to get those checked off the list soon!
Describe your personal style.
This has been shifting so much the past few years. I’m pretty eclectic and also inconsistent in my style. I deeply resonate with that TikTok sound that went viral “I got three looks… and that’s it.….. homeless man, 12-year-old boy, and a hooker.” I like transforming with fashion and with clothing. I love totally dressing like a 12-year-old boy one day, and then wearing a super tailored suit the next, and then a boho comfy dress the next -I am playing so much with what I love, who I am, what my identity is-and the I’m just allowing myself to express that really fluidly and without restriction right now.
What are some beauty products you can’t live without?
I have just been introduced to the brand OSEA. And I am forever changed. I loved the story of how this company came to be, and then I started trying their products and am just totally hooked. I have crazy curly hair and am a huge Deva Curl fan- they keep my curls in order and are a ride-or-die for me in my hair routine. I am trying to be more conscious of only using cruelty-free products and more sustainable brands. It’s so important -what we put on our skin, in our bodies and how we impact the world around us-it matters, and I care deeply to continue to sift through everything in my home and life to ensure it aligns with those values. I really like trying new products and learning about new companies -there are so many incredible brands out there.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
What is meant for you won’t pass you by. I live my life by that.
What songs are on your playlist right now?
I have a vast music taste- I am hopelessly into Motown music and I am often blasting an oldies playlist titled “Brooklyn Mornings.” If not that, then I am also jamming to some newer retro pop like Durand Jones & The Indications Aaron Frazer, Leon Bridges. I can get down with a full Ella and Billie mood, too. In the evening, I usually put on Raveena Spotify playlist and let that just swoooooon me into another world. Want a playlist? I’ll make you one. Let’s bring back mixtapes. Thats a love language.
What’s the last show you binge watched?
I just went back and re-binged The Queens Gambit – Anya Taylor Joy is a massive inspiration for me and I watch her work a lot. I also re-watched Season 2 of The Crown – Vanessa Kirby is another massive influence on who I am as an actress. There are so many incredible shows and so much great content right now – if anyone has any suggestions of shows to binge, please DM me. Let’s make a list.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Well not so guilty, but my joyous balance and pleasure is horseback riding. I have a gorgeous horse that I ride 3 mornings a week out here in LA, and it’s the greatest gift I’d love to bring that to a role one day, but for now it’s my simplest joy. I would love to continue focusing on training and advancing and maybe following in Kaley Cuoco’s footsteps one day of being able to balance traveling and showing/competing when I have time between projects! Time at the barn is healing and my trainer is just the most incredible friend and teacher.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am a homeschooled only child…who then went to boarding school. Well actually, maybe that surprises no one and just explains a lot about me.